I reviewed Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin quite a while ago now, after picking it up in Waterstones on a whim. It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading its sequel Blood for Blood, despite enjoying another of Graudin’s books (Invictus) in the meantime.
I have no excuse whatsoever — I had an ARC of this from NetGalley, so I didn’t even have to wait for it to be published. I just… got distracted. And then, when I finally started it, it took me a nearly full week to read it. Not because I didn’t like it. But because I knew it was going to be hard to review, so I kept putting off that last 15% for longer and longer until I felt strong enough to review it.
Spoiler alert: after that ending, I wasn’t.
This book packs an emotional punch, with a balance of tragedy and hope that left me feeling somewhat overwhelmed and unsure where to begin with reviewing it. Even now, a few weeks later, I’m not sure how to sort out my jumbled thoughts.
Firstly, I think I enjoyed it more than the first book, simply because I knew what to expect. When I picked up Wolf by Wolf, I didn’t know it had a fantasy element — I thought it was just alternate history, and was caught completely off-guard by the ‘skinshifting’ abilities that the main character has. With this one, though, I knew about that when I started, so I had a much less confusing experience overall.
It also did a pretty good job of recapping what had happened in the first book, without labouring the point. I’d forgotten virtually everything, but it came back as I read the first few chapters, and although I might have had a better understanding if I’d reread the first book, I didn’t find myself lost while reading this one.
I probably could have used a refresher when it came to the character relationships, though, particularly between Yael and Luka. Not being able to remember their previous interactions in any detail meant I couldn’t say how convincing their feelings were in this book, though I got invested in their relationship, which is something. I felt Graudin had a good grasp on the fine line between “no honestly THIS Nazi sympathiser is a good guy!” and “regular people are sometimes complicit in horrors”, with Luka coming down on the correct side of that. His ignorance of the truth about concentration camps was never used as an excuse and he himself admitted his own failure to do more, then attempted to make up for it by, well, doing more.
Miriam was another character where I could have used a backstory refresher, as I felt I was missing a few pieces. It still gives me a little thrill every time I see my name in a book, because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s noticeable that 90% of the fictional Miriams I encounter are Jewish, whereas a lot of the other Miriams I know in real life aren’t. This Miriam is, however, an engaging character outside of that — my name bias wasn’t the only reason I liked her. I just felt slightly detached from the context.
I really enjoyed the writing style, though, and found it emotional and poetic without being overblown. It might not suit everyone, but I particularly liked how Yael’s thoughts were depicted, and they probably helped me get extremely emotionally invested. Putting off the ending was a mistake, though; there was a lot of build-up and, unknowingly, I’d stopped two pages before it falls off an emotional cliff and leaves you crumpled at the bottom, so that was a tough way to re-enter the story. Way to destroy my heart, Graudin.
As I said earlier, the ending’s an effective balance of tragedy and hope. It explores the idea of healing in the aftermath of horror, and reclaiming what’s been taken from you. I found the descriptions of Yael and Miriam’s tentative attempts at salvaging their Jewish faith and traditions particularly moving. I’m not Jewish, so I’d be interested to know how Jewish readers responded to that scene, but it felt kind of… open, and gentle, and touching, in the face of a lot of raw pain. If that even makes sense.
Anyway, overall I liked this a lot. I think I’ll try and reread Wolf By Wolf some time, and see if I respond better to it when I know what genre it is before I start.
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